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James Chu-yu Soong (宋楚瑜 Wade-Giles: Sung Ch'u-yü; pinyin: Sòng Chǔyú; born March 16, 1942) is a politician in the Republic of China on Taiwan. He founded and chairs the People First Party, which favors Chinese reunification.
Early life and education
Soong was born in Hunan Province in mainland China. His father, Soong Ta , was a career soldier staunchly loyal to Chiang Kai-shek who rose to the rank of Major General in the Nationalist Army. With the Nationalist defeat in the Chinese Civil War, the family fled to Taiwan in 1949. He earned his bachelor's degree in diplomacy from National Chengchi University in 1964. During this time, he was remembered for wearing business suits every day to fit his career ambitions.
Soong travelled to the United States for graduate school and received an M.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 and an M.S. in library science from the Catholic University of America in 1971. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Georgetown University in 1974.
While at Berkeley, Soong met his future wife Viola Chen (陳萬水). They later had a son and a daughter.
Rise to power
As he was finishing his doctoral studies, he was recommended by Government Information Office (GIO) Director Frederick Chien to be then-Premier Chiang Ching-kuo English secretary. Soong served as Secretary to Premier from 1974-1977 and with Chiang Ching-kuo's accession to the presidency, the Personal Secretary to the President from 1978-1981 and 1984-1989. Soong gained his public fame when he addressed the nation following the Carter administration's decision to break ties with the ROC in order to switch diplomatic ties to the People's Republic of China on December 16, 1978 in which he gave a patriotic condemnation of the American position and a ringing defense of the ROC.
Soon afterwards, President Chiang promoted Soong to become the youngest Director-General of the Government Information Office, which he served until from 1979 to 1984. He was accused by his critics of aggressive censorship, including excessive use of libel laws and prison sentences to silence critics, and involvement in the suppression of the Kaohsiung Incident, during which he called Shih Ming-teh the "king of pirates." Soong received widespread disapproval in 1981 for revoking the press licence of Tina Chou of the Associated Press for her violation of the GIO's orders to refrain from publishing autopsy results of Professor Chen Wen-cheng , who was killed at the National Taiwan University campus. Soong's supporters point out that, despite this record, it was under Soong (later as governor) that censorship was greatly relaxed as were limits on the use of Taiwanese in the electronic media.
Soong and the rise of Lee Teng-hui
Upon Chiang Ching-kuo's death in 1988, Soong was seen as instrumental in consolidating the power of the new president, Lee Teng-hui. Soong was part of the Palace Faction (宮廷派) that included Chiang loyalists such as Hau Pei-tsun and Lee Huan and which sought to limit Lee Teng-hui and his native Taiwanese faction's role in the government. During the KMT's central standing committee on the day of Chiang's funeral, when the Palace Faction sought to delay Lee's accession to the party Chairmanship, Soong unexpectedly made an impassioned plea in favor of Lee, declaring that "Each day of delay is a day of disrespect to Ching-kuo."
Soong established himself as one of the few mainlanders who were also loyal to Lee. In support of Soong, Lee coined the term "New Taiwanese" to describe a person born in mainland China, raised in Taiwan, who calls Taiwan home. Lee moved swiftly to promote Soong to KMT Secretary-General, a position Soong held from 1989 to 1993. In 1993, Lee appointed him Governor of Taiwan Province.
In 1994 Soong became first and only directly elected Governor of Taiwan. He was widely perceived to be an excellent campaigner and his excellent showing in the governorship ended hopes by the DPP of a Yeltsin effect , by which an elected governor would have more legitimacy than the national government.
Despite his Mainlander background, Soong proved to be a popular politician among all ethnic groups on Taiwan, in part because he was one of the first KMT politicians to attempt to use the Taiwanese language in political and formal occasions, despite speaking it rather poorly.
After Premier Lien Chan was elected vice president in 1996, the premiership was to be vacated. Soong felt that as Governor of Taiwan, he was natural successor of Lien, but Lee believed that Soong should serve out his term. Lee appointed Vincent Siew, whom Soong considered a subordinate, and led to their split.
The position Governor of Taiwan was eliminated in 1998 following a National Development Council meeting in 1996, when it suggested the federal structure of the Republic of China government be streamlined. Soong and his supporters believe this to have been a political move done by Lee to cut off Soong's power base, but proponents of the downsizing called it a pragmatic move to eliminate contradictory administrative territory. Soong tendered his resignition on December 31 of the same year, but Lee did not accept.
2000 presidential elections
After losing the KMT presidential nomination to then-vice president Lien Chan, Soong ran as an independent in the 2000 Presidential elections. Soong advocated a gradual union between Taiwan and the mainland by first signing a non-aggression pact followed by the formation of a cross-strait union similar to the European Union. His platform called for the characterization of relations between the Mainland and Taiwan as neither foreign nor domestic. Although widely seen as the candidate most friendly to Mainland China, Soong took particular effort to counter the perception that he would "sell out" Taiwan.
The KMT responded by expelling Soong and his supporters from the party. In the final months leading to the 2000 elections, the KMT, then under Lee Teng-hui's leadership, sued Soong for theft, alleging that as party Secretary-General, he stole millions of Taiwan dollars in cash intended for the family of the late President Chiang Ching-kuo and hid the money in the Chunghsing Bills Finance Company . The KMT alleged that Soong wired the stolen money, summing up to 12 million US dollars, into more than 20 accounts of his relatives in the United States. Among them, 6 million US dollars was under his son's name. In defense, Soong admitted the existence of the money but then claimed the money in his son's account was a gift from a senior friend. He later admitted that the money in those bank accouts was in fact all from the KMT, but he insisted that the money transfer was authorized by then-KMT chairman, Lee Teng-hui, which Lee denied.
The scandal tarnished Soong's image as a clean politician. Initially leading in the polls, Soong narrowly lost the election with 36.84% of the vote to Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party with 39.3%. Lien came in a distant third with only 23.1%. One common belief on Taiwan is that Lee Teng-hui favored the unpopular Vice President Lien Chan over the highly popular Soong in a deliberate effort to sabotage the Kuomintang and was secretly supporting Chen. Others believe Lee feared Soong would help expose the corruption in his regime, and undermine his legacy.
After losing the election, Soong's supporters protested in front of the KMT party headquarters and blockaded the building for a few days. They succeeded in pressuring Lee Teng-hui to resign as KMT Chairman in favor of Lien Chan. Within weeks, Soong and his supporters formed the People First Party (PFP), considered a spin-off from the KMT. The loss of PFP votes was a major factor in causing the KMT to swing toward Chinese reunification thereby causing the subsequent expulsion of Lee Teng-hui.
Prosecutors later dropped all charges against Soong in the Chunghsing Scandal . In 2003, the investigation was reopened, with former President Lee (now expelled from the KMT and the "spiritual leader" of the radically pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union) testifying against Soong in court. However, with the KMT allied with the PFP for the 2004 presidential election, the KMT aided Soong in his defense, and KMT Chairman Lien Chan claimed the KMT was misled into filing the lawsuit against Soong. The KMT dropped the charges and collected the money that had been returned and was deposited in the court by Soong.
2004 presidential elections
Despite the personal rivalries between Lien, the KMT chairman after 2000, and Soong, the KMT and PFP pledged to cooperate in future elections to prevent splitting the vote, as they basically share the same electorate. Though losses in the 2001 legislative elections made the DPP the largest single party in the Legislative Yuan, the pan-blue coalition retained a narrow majority over the pan-green coalition.
Soong ran as Vice Presidential candidate under Lien Chan in the 2004 elections. Some believe that the PFP's lack of experienced candidates in the December 2002 mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung (the PFP supported the KMT's candidates), and the PFP's poor performance the city council elections in those cities at the same time were major setbacks to Soong's chances of being the KMT-PFP candidate for president. There were widespread rumors that Soong agreed to take the Vice-Presidential post in exchange for a pledge by Lien to give him significant power including the Premiership. Many KMT members opposed the linkage as they considered Soong an opportunist and traitor. Soong's supporters cited that he was more popular than Lien, as consistently demonstrated by polls and the results of the 2000 presidential elections. Though both men garnered a combined 60% of the vote in 2000 (compared to Chen's 39%) they lost to Chen by a mere 0.22% of the vote and never conceded.
In the middle of the SARS endemic in May 2003, he slashed the administration of not being able to participate WHO and thus lead to the danger in public health. Subsequently, he promised to the public that if elected, he will push for participation in WHO under the principle Under the Roof of One China. In his Under the Roof of One China priciple, he will not challenge the One China policy set by PRC, he added. However, this proposal enhanced the public perception of "selling out" Taiwan toward him and his opponents questioned how he can protect Taiwan's sovereignty and accept the Taiwan to be part of China at the same time. In order to quench this negative image, Soong and his running mate Lien made a unexpected change of direction in their cross strait policy by announcing that they would drop unification as the ultimate goal in their cross strait policy in an international press conference during the 2004 presidient election race. They further explained that they even would not exclude the possibility of final independence of Taiwan. However, his opponents still hold speculative eye in Soong's true intention. His mainland origins also plagued him in the 2004 election.
Soong has been a staunch opponent of Taiwan independence. He publicly opposed Taiwanese language education at his early political life and criticize multi-lingual education would lead to "Lebanonization of languages" and create communication chaos in the nation. He also criticized President Chen for staging a referendum. He strongly opposed the major military weapon procurement from US and actively participated the anti-weapon-purchase protests. He maintained the purchase would be part of military race across the strait and would not enhance Taiwan's ability in self-defense.
His base of support includes strong supporters of Chinese reunification, rural voters who were grateful for the selective economic development undertaken while he was governor, and urban middle class voters who see him as a cleaner alternative to the KMT. Soong is well known for using his body language, publicly kneeling and shedding tears, as a gesture to plead for constituency support. Though many criticize it to be histrionic, most of Soong's supporters see it to be candid and sincere.
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